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Can I Use a Portable Generator on a Boat?

Today, boat cruising isn’t fun without enough power to keep the navigation, communication, lighting, heating, and other amenities running. And since the onboard battery system won’t cut it in providing enough power to run all these systems, boat owners are running for the idea of using a generator on their boats. But, can you use a portable generator on a boat?

Yes. However, generator usage on a boat comes with lots of risks that you have to control, as if mishandled or neglected while on the water, it can be a fire hazard. But, if you handle it with care and diligence, you can use it safely and keep your necessary amenities close to you.

In this post, I will take you through how to use a portable generator on a boat safely, why consider or go against the idea of having a generator on your boat, and what to look for when getting a generator to use on your boat. Read along!

How to Use a Portable Generator on a Boat Safely

Can I use a portable generator on a boat? Yes, of course, but safety first. If you’re planning on getting a supplemental power supply system on your boat, safety must be your priority. That’s why you must be extremely careful with the generator type you pick and how you will use it. Here are few tips you will want to consider for safe generator usage on a boat:

1. Use a Marine Portable Generator

With portable marine generators looking identical to a regular portable generator, most boaters think it’s a good idea to get a regular model. However, there are design and feature differences that’ll affect their performance and safety on a boat.

A boating generator will have weather and waterproof specifications, meaning it can handle operating in those moisture-laden marine environments.

The same can’t be said about regular generators. In a marine environment, they are vulnerable to corrosion. They can break down quickly.

Portable marine generators feature components made from reinforced materials and high-grade seals. They have wear-resistant enclosures that reduce exposure of their interior components to salt air. They also have durable pumps designed to withstand the challenges of running a generator on a boat.

You should know, though, there is a way you can marinize a regular generator. For starters, there is reinforcing the casing seams and waterproofing the components with waterproof lubrication sprays.

2. Ventilation is a Must

A generator cannot be used indoor. That means you MUST NEVER run your portable generator in an enclosed space.

Operate it in an area with maximum ventilation like the deck or a spot you’re confident the generator won’t be trapped.

You can also use the ventilator in an aft position to facilitate the fumes to be carried away by the winds.

3. Use the generator When Anchored or Moored Only

The best way to operate a portable generator on a boat is to place it on a level surface. You MUST also never run the generator while you’re in motion.

When the boat is in motion, there’s the risk of fuel leaks and spills, increasing the risk of fire. There might also be potential splashes that could get your generator wet.

Also, avoid installing your portable generator permanently on your boat – find a way to secure it in place temporarily.

4. Avoid Using Gasoline

It’s not a must, but it’d be a better alternative to gasoline if you could get a portable generator running on propane or LPG.

Propane is a safer and cleaner fuel. Apart from this, it’s packed safely, preventing spills, and it’s easy to connect or disconnect it to your generator.

Diesel is another less volatile alternative liquid you can use, but its spill can extend the problems, not just for your boat but also to the sea.

5. Avoid Refueling Generator on Boat

If you are using gasoline or diesel-powered generator, avoid refueling it when onboard your generator.

There is a high risk of ignition that increases the fire hazard of using a generator on a boat. It has been linked to many boat accidents by multiple national boat rescue teams.

Fill the generator while onshore and carry it to your boat. Make sure there are no fuel spills and leakage.

6. Keep Your Generator Dry Always

Using a portable generator on a boat comes with its challenges. One of them is keeping it dry and which is a MUST.

You can get yourself a generator canopy or cowling to protect the generator from rain. Make sure the cover doesn’t reduce ventilation in any way.

7. Be Vigilant With an Onboard Generator

When you’re running a generator onboard your boat, it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s running correctly. Monitor the get to ensure it’s in safe positions, operating correctly, and stable.

Never sleep and leave the generator running. Don’t rely on others to handle or check your generator. Shut off the generator if you find any fuel leaks or spills.

Install a carbon monoxide alarm to provide added protection.

8. Store the Generator Safely When Not in Use

When you’re not using the generator, shut it down and store it in a moisture-free lockable shelve. Find a spot that is not near any items that can cause fuel leak or damage it.

Why Consider Using a Portable Generator on a Boat

When mariners meet for a discussion, the most common question that never misses to come up relates to supplementary power supply, with a portable generator in the mix. But why would you consider having one on your boat?

Boats come with VHF radio communication, navigation system, bilge pump, and lighting, all electrically operated. Modern types come with refrigeration, heating, air-condition, tech, and more amenities that require power.

Surely, boat batteries won’t cut it in, providing enough power to keep you comfortable and safe at sea, especially during an extended period. Getting yourself a portable generator on your boat, though expensive, can be an ideal upgrade for you.

Using a portable generator on a boat is a convenient solution for off-grid boat power, so long as you operate it safely.

Why Using Portable Generator on a Boat Might be a Bad Idea

Before you can head out buying a portable generator to use on your boat, you might want to consider:

A Portable Generator Will Reduce Boat Capacity

The federal law on boat usage specifies that a vessel under 20 feet in length must carry the boat’s capacity plate stating the maximum weight the boat can handle safely.

And, even though we consider it a portable lightweight, it will tip the scales easily. Considering you will still need other necessities such as supplies and gear, you might find yourself breaching the maximum gross load your boat should carry.

What’s more, overloading your boat is extremely risky as it can become challenging to control and swamped quickly.

Gasoline and Other Fuel on the Generator is a Major Fire Hazard

Fire hazard is the most serious issue you might have to deal with when you have a portable generator onboard. Most of the time, boats can be in an unpredictable environment. And if you consider the hot combustion engine, sparks, exhaust fumes, and fuel vapors, these are the perfect fire disaster recipes.

Not once or twice have I heard of Yachts lost through fires caused by petrol vapors from a generator on board. If you operate the generator while your boat is underway, there is a risk of getting tipped and causing fuel leak with the potential to catch fire.

Water and electricity – the worst combination

I think you already know, water and electricity don’t go along. Rain and water that might splash on the generator increase the possibility of electrocution.

Using a portable generator onboard your boat complicates things. The only option of running a generator safely is on the deck, where it’s exposed to the two factors.

Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer produced when the generator burns fuels. It’s odorless and invisible. Running a portable generator in any closed space is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.

You must ensure where you place your generator is highly ventilated. It must allow and promote ideal exhaust fume dissipation.

Install CO Monitor Alarm in every room in your generator. The device will allow you to know when there are lethal levels of CO fumes.

Risk of Getting Evicted From Your Marina

In most marine environments, there are strict rules on the moving or handling of fuel, which might prohibit using a gas generator on a boat.

The rules exist to prevent generator fire accidents experienced with houseboats that caused the fire to spread to other houseboats.

How to Choose the Best Portable Generator for Boats

Getting yourself the best marine portable generator can be a massive plus for you. It can give you several possibilities, including running a coffee maker, air conditioner, microwave, and night fishing lights.

It can also help if your vessel dies while you’re in the water or can recharge the batteries. So, what are the things to consider when buying a portable generator for use on a boat?

Power Requirements

Before you can buy a portable generator for use on a boat, consider the total wattage you’ll be drawing from it. Find the power ratings of all the appliances and devices you will be connecting to the generator and add them.

They have to be in watts – if not, multiply the appliance/device voltage by its amperage to get the power rating in watts. What you get here should 80% of your generator’s starting power.

Fuel Options

The best and safest fuel option for use on a boat is liquid propane. You can also go for generators that use natural gas, though they are very few. Another less volatile fuel is diesel, but portable generators that run on diesel fuel are very few. Avoid gasoline as it will bring all kinds of fuel problems such as leaks and spills, increasing fire risk.

Noise Levels

While cruising, the boat produces noise, but when you’re relaxing off-shore, you need to keep as quiet as you can, and that’s why a quiet generator comes in. You don’t want neighbors and your fellow water-lovers to force you out of the water.

Weight and Size

Remember, you have to keep your maximum boat weight in check, including the number of items you add to it. When buying your portable generator, consider the weight left and the allowance you’re giving yourself for a passenger or something.

Also, consider you will need to refuel the generator out of the boat, meaning you’ll have multiple on and off trips with the generator. That requires you to get a transportable, lightweight model that you can store in your available space.

How to Prepare Your Portable Generator for Use on a Boat

If you’ll not be using a marine generator but a regular portable generator, it’d be best to prepare it for use on a boat. What do you need? Open any closed parts of the generator to have full access to the generator interior. Once you gain access to all the parts, apply the following sprays.

Electric Equipment Spray

The Electric Equipment Spray protects electrical devices and equipment from moisture and oxidation in marine environments. It will help restore your portable generator’s dielectric resistance and also increase its service life.

Besides this, its ultra-thin finish and long-lasting soiling protection protect against corrosion and rust. You can apply it by spraying the terminals and other electrical parts of your generator.

High Heat Spray

The high-heat spray will help protect the muffler from rusting and corrosion from the salt air in the marine environment. It does also offer superior sheen and color retention after repeated heating.

Rust & Corrosion Protection/Inhibitor

The Rust-Corrosion Inhibitor Spray helps loosen the corroded and rusty parts on your generator. It does also flush out dirt or any old lubricants, not forgetting moisture displacement. Besides this, the product will dry to a thin and waxy film and cling to the metal parts protecting them from corrosion and rust.


And that’s your answer! As I mentioned, safety comes first. When using a portable generator on your boat, make sure it’s off when the vessel is on the move, always refill outboard, use less volatile fuel, stay vigilant when the generator is running, and store it safely. Also, consider getting a CO alarm to help monitor for CO poisoning.s

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Sharif Gen

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